When Charlotte’s Pierria Henry missed his second free throw with 10 seconds left in the game, College of Charleston guard Joe Chealey was just looking to make a play.
And what a play the freshman made.
Chealey drove the length of the floor, weaving his way through the 49ers’ defense. Chealey drove down the right baseline, forcing the Charlotte defense to collapse on him. Chealey didn’t panic, he slid the ball over to a wide-open Willis Hall, who sank the uncontested layup with 1.7 seconds to play, capping a thrilling 83-82 come-from-behind victory before a raucous crowd of 3,752 Tuesday night at TD Arena.
The Cougars (1-1) trailed by as many as 14 points with six minutes left in regulation, as many as seven points with 39 seconds to play, but found a way at the end of the game to make just one more play than the 49ers (1-1).
It was an improbable finish and comeback for the Cougars and left many nearly speechless after the game.
“Unbelievable, that’s about all I can say,” said College of Charleston coach Doug Wojcik. “Honestly, I feel like we stole one. Give all the credit to the kids. They deserve it. Down the stretch, they just made plays.”
With his Hall of Fame father, Rick Barry, watching from just behind the Cougars’ bench, freshman Canyon Barry scored a game-high 26 points, but it was the calm and unflappable Chealey who turned the game around for the Cougars in the final minute.
Trailing 82-78, Chealey stepped in front of a Terrence Williams inbounds pass, turned and sank a 3-pointer to cut the gap to 82-81 with 11 seconds to play.
The Cougars immediately fouled to send Henry, who finished with a team-high 21 points, to the free throw line.
“I told the guys if (Henry) missed one, get the ball to the front of the rim, if he made both, then we needed to get a 3-point shot off,” Wojcik said. “I never dreamed he’d miss both.”
But Henry did.
Showing a patience well beyond his years, Chealey drove the length of the floor and found Hall for the game-winner.
“I was just trying to make a play,” said Chealey, who finished with 18 points and two assists. “They committed to me when I got near the paint and luckily Willis Hall was in the right place, like he always is. I didn’t see him until the last second. The coaches told me to attack and that’s what I was thinking, but when three guys converged on me, I saw Willis standing there with his hands out waiting for me to make the pass.”
Hall said he was certain that Chealey would shoot and was there for the rebound if the Orlando, Fla., native missed. When he saw the pass, he almost couldn’t believe it.
“Joe doesn’t play like a freshman,” said Hall, who finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. “A lot guys don’t have that kind of patience, especially not many freshmen. What a great pass. I wanted to get the shot up as quickly as possible before the weak-side help came over for the block.”
Barry, playing in the first home game of his career, was nearly unstoppable. Barry drove through the 49ers’ defense at will, finishing 11 of 19 from the floor and 4 of 8 from 3-point range.
“Canyon has an unbelievable first step and then he’s athletic enough to get to the glass and finish,” Wojcik said. “He was great tonight.”
Trailing by double-digits late in the game, the Cougars chipped away at the 49ers’ lead, getting crucial 3-pointers from Barry, Chealey, Anthony Thomas and Anthony Stitt in the final three minutes of the game.
“We didn’t panic on the bench,” Barry said. “We just kept chipping away at their lead. We knew we couldn’t get it all back in one possession.”